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Things in the Legislature continue to be busy with floor debate in the morning and committee hearings in the afternoon.
Short sessions are always more hectic because there is still much to do but fewer days in which to do it. This year it seems even more so. With big challenges still ahead, most notably the budget shortfall and the urgency to do something about property taxes, the time to address other important issues will be limited.
Last week several days of debate were devoted to a bill introduced by Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango. LB758 was intended to reduce the negative impact on the local property tax base suffered by counties when natural resources districts and interlocal entities buy private land to use for projects augmenting streamflow as required by the 2003 Republican River Compact. The Compact apportions surface water usage between Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska.
The Rock Creek Augmentation Project and the Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement project (N-CORPE) are at the center of the debate. Between the two, almost 25,000 acres of irrigated land was purchased in Lincoln and Dundy counties and converted to grassland in order to pump groundwater into the Republican and Platte rivers to meet the compact’s requirements. The lower tax valuation that resulted from the conversion had a significant adverse impact on these counties.
As introduced, Hughes’ bill required that Rock Creek and N-CORPE work with the county in which the project is located to reduce the impact to the tax rolls. While they have paid assessed property taxes in the past, they have challenged the requirement on the premise that a public entity should not have to pay property taxes on land that serves a public purpose.
In July 2017 the state Tax Equalization and Review Commission (TERC) agreed. In light of this ruling, an amendment to the bill is pending that would allow NRDs and interlocal entities to make voluntary payments to a county in lieu of taxes.
Overall I am not a fan of these projects but they have helped the state meet its obligations under the compact. I do support the pending amendment which will hold school districts and other local entities harmless as was originally intended. I hope that at some point in the future the projects will be terminated.
The ultimate future of the bill is uncertain. Several Senators are strongly opposed to it and there may not be enough support in the body to overcome a potential filibuster.
Looking ahead, the Transportation & Telecommunications Committee, which I chair, will soon be holding hearings on several bills which are generating a great deal of interest.
LB856 introduced by Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln seeks to institute an internet neutrality provision at the state level. Net neutrality requires that internet service providers treat online data equally and do not favor certain content or users; and, that there are no limitations or restrictions on internet access based on content or user.
LB1063 introduced by Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha creates a fund to assist victims of traumatic brain injury funded through fees on vehicle operator’s licenses and permits along with state issued identification cards.
LB1009 introduced by Sen. John Murante of Gretna raises the speed limit on some types of state roads and creates a new road classification. The new “super-two” will be a two-lane highway with intermittent passing lanes, primarily intended for through traffic.
Nebraska currently has 9 road classifications: interstate; expressway; major arterial; scenic-recreation; other arterial; collector; local; minimum maintenance; and remote residential.
Finally, as always, please feel free to contact me and my staff about your legislative concerns or other issues you would like to discuss. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and our telephone number is 402-471-2630. If you are in Lincoln, you are always welcome to stop by the office and visit with me. My office is in room 1110 in the Nebraska State Capitol.